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I Don’t Get My Way at Christmas

I think most of what makes it FEEL like Christmas is based on our childhood memories.

For me, I love a leisurely Christmas morning, with just Chris and the kids. That’s how we always did it growing up, because we lived in the same area as all of our extended family.

However, Chris and I haven’t lived near family in over 13 years. Christmas usually involves traveling.

This makes laid-back Christmas mornings almost impossible.

We have opened presents as a family on Christmas Eve and then headed to the airport. Some Christmas mornings, we’ve woken up in a hotel to a “complimentary” Christmas breakfast. There’s been times the kids opened stockings in the car. We’ve attended Christmas services at the grandparents’ church. One year, we ate Christmas dinner at Waffle House, because it was the only thing open on the way to family.

Every holiday is different. And rarely like Christmases I remember from childhood.

A few years ago, we didn’t travel anywhere for Christmas. I was thrilled. Finally, my nice, peaceful Christmas morning! On the correct date. Just the family.

Except, the kids weren’t impressed. “This is boring.” “I wish we’d gone to see family.” “There’s nothing to do.” “Why did we stay home?”

And I realized my “normal” Christmas wasn’t theirs. To my kids, Christmas is road trips and visiting grandparents in another state. It’s hotels and airports. Luggage and presents all jammed into the trunk. Exploring in the woods of Arkansas or playing in Wisconsin snow.

So now my Christmas expectations are a lot more flexible. We still set aside time for just our family. But it’s ok that we have to work it around the road trip.

It turns out, having a more open mind about what is a “real” Christmas is a good thing.

This year, our traveling took us through the city of an adoptive-mom-friend, so she and I were able to have coffee and chat in person, which was a huge treat. Next, we are headed to spend Christmas with Enoch’s birth family. And we will finish up our holiday trip at Chris’ parents’ house.

So, as much as I love my nostalgic holiday customs, I’m learning that beauty comes in opening up to new kinds of Christmas traditions too. Especially when I see my kids’ joy in making their own memories.

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How Family Photos Fell Apart. Again.

Every year, around Christmas time, we attempt family pictures. And every year, I wonder what the heck we were thinking.

Like seriously. Whether it’s a photo shoot with a photographer, or using the timer on an iPhone, one of the kids always breaks. Always.

At first glance, the pictures usually turn out OK, but if you look closer, Chris and I are smiling with angry eyes. Or we’re holding a kid’s hand down. Or a child’s cheeks are red from crying. Or the only reason they’re smiling is because we’re tickling their ribs.

Every year, I swear we’ll never do it again. But by next Christmas, the allure of casually matched outfits and the hope of smiling children’s faces does me in again.

This past Thursday, we decided to give it another go. I was optimistic.

Except, the babies wouldn’t nap. And we needed to meet the photographer at the park by 4:00.

At 2:00, they were  jumping around in their beds and I felt a bit concerned. By 2:45, I was basically panicking. At 3:00, they both fell asleep. And at 3:15, I had to wake them up to get ready. However, Enoch usually does OK with very little nap, so I thought we might still make this time the one to remember.

I had prepared so well, guys. I had extra outfits. I had stern talks with the big kids, which may have involved some guilt that they’ll need to process as adults. (“If you love me, you’ll smile in these pictures!”) I packed toys the babies could play with, that would look OK if they ended up in the pictures. I picked the big kids up early from school so we wouldn’t be rushing. We even asked our beloved babysitter to come along and help control the chaos.

But I could not have accounted for the real problem we faced. Never, in a million years, would I have guessed that Enoch would fall in love with the Ohio River.

He got out of the car, saw the sun glistening on those muddy banks and he had to have it. He needed to hold it and love it and no one was going to stop him. But because he is two, he didn’t say it like that. Instead, he refused to walk, his body went limp, and he wailed at the top of his lungs.

We tried to convince him to explore fallen logs and handed him sticks that would normally have thrilled his soul. But all he could do was cry, “Wa’er! Wa’er!”

Our photographer was great at figuring out how to make it work and suggested we let him have that river. So she snapped candid pictures of our family frolicking along the craggy edges of the water, like we were super-outdoorsy people who put on our nicest clothes to do fun stuff like that.

And listen. When we’re taking family photos, it’s not about parenting. It’s about doing whatever it takes to make that kid happy. Parenting is for when there’s no camera.

Which is why our next effort was to try to bribe him (with raisins) to sit on a blanket next to his little sister. It worked pretty good for the 2.5 seconds that he was fisting the raisins into his mouth. And then he was crying for the “wa’er” again.

But our photographer kept telling us, “These are turning out great!” and I believe her. Especially because, look at the preview she posted!:


Years from now, I won’t remember which kid was freaking out in this set of photos. I probably won’t even be able to tell that I’m internally praying that someone will pull it together so we can all look HAPPY.

I’ll just see the cute little faces and I’ll want to book another family photo shoot.


Previous years’ attempts at family pictures. Some professional, some not. But all very stressful at the time, and now treasured forever.

family00 family01 family02 family05 family06 family07 family08 family09

Thanks to Michael Will Photographers, Dalila of 1986 Photography, Matthew of 1979 Photography, and Anna May Photography for helping us capture some of these moments!


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The Santa Claus Conspiracy

Once a week, I volunteer in my son’s 2nd grade class at school. Most of the time, the kids just read with me. However, once in a while they end up sharing their own stories.

Last week, one of the little girls told me she recently heard jingle bells. So she looked out of her mailbox slot and saw Santa and his reindeer flying. “Maybe,” she said, “he was practicing.”

But he did drop off some packages at her house on his practice run, and they are still there.

She explained that sometimes Santa lies a little bit and writes, “From Mom and Dad” on gifts, because he doesn’t want kids to think the packages are from him. But they really are.

I have never, ever heard this theory before and find it very intriguing. It’s not parents who try to convince their children to believe in Santa. Rather, it is Santa who wants children to believe in their parents. Interesting.

This smart little girl also firmly believes in the tooth fairy and has a plan to save up 3 teeth to trick the fairy out of $3 all at once.


(If you’re curious about why my kids think about Santa, read The Truth About Santa and Spider Man)

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Jesus, and What He Apparently Thinks About Social Media

Last Sunday, Chris preached at a friend’s church about the God Who Came Near.

I feel like He came near to me today. In the line at the post office, while I was reading Twitter.

I mean, it wasn’t an earth-shattering moment. I didn’t fall on the floor, speaking in tongues. (Thank goodness. That would have been awkward.) It wasn’t even a specific tweet that caught my eye.

But somehow, as I read my twitter stream, I felt the Lord come near and grow my heart for Him. He stretched my understanding of His nature. By His grace, He allowed me to gain a deeper wonder for aspects of His character that my humanity isn’t inclined to “like.”

There are so many paradoxes in that experience. I wasn’t doing anything “Christian-y.” I was using social media, which isn’t considered spiritual. I was mailing a Christmas package, which could be viewed as commercialism. And Jesus met me.

And that’s so spiritual. Because Jesus wants to encounter our hearts in the mundane. He isn’t afraid of social media or the commercialization of Christmas. He’s so much bigger than that.

I kind of feel like we shouldn’t fight and kick and rail against “non-spiritual” aspects of life. Rather, embrace them as opportunities to meet with Jesus. You never know where He might show up. Maybe at the post office.

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Visit with Santa Clause

We took Isaiah and Leah to the library for the kids’ Christmas party, featuring a visit from Santa Clause.  Most of the kids screamed, or at least got very shy, when it was their turn to sit on Santa’s lap.  But not my son.  He came running up to Santa waving his Christmas Bingo sheet (from the game they had played before Santa’s arrival) and began telling Santa all about it, complete with how to play.  Isaiah’s definitely a people person!

Leah did OK too.  She was annoyed when I set her down in Santa’s lap, but after a bit of protest she ignored him and went back to her lolly-pop.  Santa was probably annoyed that I sat a sticky one year old in his lap!  He probably labeled me as one of THOSE parents.

The kids each got a stuffed polar bear wearing a Christmas hat and scarf from Santa.  Now, if you’ve been following our family saga, you know that Isaiah’s favorite buddy is a beanie-baby sized monkey named Mee-Mee.  Chris’ mom stumbled across a bigger version of the monkey, made by the same company.  So when she sent it to Isaiah, we told him it was Mee-Mee’s dad.  When we asked Isaiah what Mee-Mee wanted for Christmas, he said, “Mee-Mee want his mom!”  We tried to figure out how we could pull that off.

So back to the polar bear.  I was talking with him about his new bear and he informed me that it was Mee-Mee’s mom!  I asked if that meant she was Mee-Mee’s dad’s wife.  Isaiah thought about it for a minute and then said, “Yeah, he is!”  So Mee-Mee has his mom!

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Our Christmas

Our family had a great Christmas! Chris spoiled me. As in “I can’t decide which is my favorite present” spoiled. As in, “It’ll take me weeks to finish wearing everything just once” spoiled. The kids got spoiled too, both by us and by their grandparents. Isaiah actually got overwhelmed opening presents and in the middle of everything begged to go watch one of his new movies. So he had two present opening sessions!

All of this gift giving made me realize again how the Lord has blessed us. I love how the Bible says, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging for bread,” (Hannah’s paraphrase). This has definitely been true in our lives. Even when things looked like they were going to be tight financially, Jesus always came through and made sure we had just enough!

We went over to our Pastors’ house on Christmas Eve and we had a few nice people invite us over for Christmas day also, but we decided to spend the day with just our family. We had been so busy in the weeks leading up to Christmas, that we all needed to just stop and enjoy each other. I’m so glad we decided to do that, because we had the nicest, most relaxed Christmas!

Isaiah had a great time playing with all his new toys. Chris helped him set up his new train track. I had fun trying on all my new clothes and jewelry. Chris even watched White Christmas with me… well, the last 20 minutes or so. He said he really liked it, once it got going, which in his mind was only the last 20 minutes of it!

I’m not a great cook yet, so I didn’t even attempt a holiday meal. We had grand plans of going to Denny’s (since it’s one of the only things open on Christmas), but when we pulled up, it was packed! I guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to cook. Isaiah was begging for a “toy” (meaning a happy meal), as if he hadn’t just opened enough toys! So we took him up on his suggestion and went to McDonalds instead. It may not sound like a great Christmas dinner, but Isaiah was happy!

Leah is talking more and more. She’ll lay on the floor and kick her feet and coo! She’ll let out little happy shrieks and smile at her toys. I know I’ve said this before, but I can’t get over what a happy girl she is! She is always smiling. We love it!

Leah is getting more control with her hands. She can rub her eyes, suck on her fist, and she even bats at her toys a little. She got an exersaucer for Christmas and she’ll play in that for short periods. She still has a hard time holding her head up by herself, so she tires out quickly, but she does seem to like it.

Isaiah is doing great with potty-training. He can hold it really well, and sometimes even tells us when he has to go. We still have a long way to go, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

He’s so smart and he carries on such interesting conversations. Usually he is just trying to get me to give him candy or let him watch a movie, or he is arguing about going to bed or sitting on the potty. But last night when I went in to re-tuck him into bed, we had the nicest little conversation about the little things that interest him. It was so sweet. I love watching him learn to communicate!

Speaking of growing up, Isaiah seems to have a girlfriend. There is a little girl in our church that he really likes! We were over at her house a couple weeks ago and he was really upset to leave. He kept asking to go back to “A-E-ahna’s.” He shares food with her. He’ll get a cracker, take a bite and then give her the rest (Thankfully, her mother isn’t a germaphobe). Last Wednesday, I heard they were holding hands and hugging in nursery. Just a minute ago, he brought me an advertisement for DVD’s. He pointed one out to me and said, “That’s my A-E-ahna’s.” This is all very cute… but what are the next 15 years going to be like, if we’re starting all this now?!

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